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Google Privacy Technology Your Rights Online

Google Toolbar Tracks Your Browsing, Even When Off 118

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the yeah-that-was-like-a-bug-or-something dept.
garg0yle writes "Google's Toolbar is supposed to allow the user to disable it. However, it was discovered by a researcher that it was still sending information even when disabled. A patch is now available, and Google claims this was just a bug, not a feature."
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Google Toolbar Tracks Your Browsing, Even When Off

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  • Oops (Score:2, Insightful)

    by strikeleader (937501)
    this was just a bug, not a feature....
    Yea...right
    • Re:Oops (Score:4, Informative)

      by hansraj (458504) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @10:10AM (#30916686)

      Rephrasing from FTFA:

      Google toolbar allowed two "modes" for disable. Users could either disable it permanently or for one specific window. In the latter case, for some versions of the toolbar it didn't disable. Browser restart or opening new windows after activating that mode did in fact disable the toolbar.

      Now, even though it doesn't make sense for the "disable this window" to work after a browser restart, it does make it plausible that it was a bug.

    • Re:Oops (Score:5, Insightful)

      by natehoy (1608657) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @10:15AM (#30916756) Journal

      Yes, it is right, this is a "bug".

      Google's statement was completely correct, they just used a form of the word "bug" that you might not have expected them to use in that context.

      That is the common vernacular for a wiretap device, right? A "bug"?

      It bugs me that they would bug me then call it a bug.

    • Google Toolbar Tracks Your Browsing, Even When Off

      In other news, Google announces move of corporate offices to Soviet Russia!

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      My guess is rather than a bug or feature, it's a design flaw. Kind of like DRM is a design flaw in CDs (data and programs alike).

      It's humorous to me that it's the phrase Microsoft uses so often, "it's a feature, not a bug" turned on its head.

    • by kalirion (728907)

      Did anyone check if the official Goolebar Firefox extension has the same "bug"?

    • No, it was a bug... like the kind the FBI plans when they're trying to spy on suspected criminals.

    • Re:Oops (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HermMunster (972336) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @04:21PM (#30923618)

      I've been telling people forever that toolbars have only one purpose, which is to track. If you really think about it there are no real features of the toolbar other than tracking. Those buttons they add can easily be accomplished with the bookmarks toolbar shortcuts/bookmarks.

      Somewhat rhetorical: What's the "other" purpose of having those toolbars? You get one for Microsoft, another for Yahoo, for Google, for Ask, etc., (makes me nauseous just to think about it).

      Those toolbars are being installed into your browser by a number of products that have the option to install it by default such as the Java installer. As someone that cleans up a lot of computers every year in my shop to interrupt this process process is time consuming--to remove or disable them. Though it is time consuming I remove or disable them on almost every customer's computer that I work on. I then inform my customers of the purpose and consequences of the toolbars.

      How much of this behavior is embedded in browsers provided by closed source vendors such as Microsoft? Do they track you and report back searches you do in Google to help them to gain a leg up on their searches? I've always wondered that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It probably was a bug.

    • by flooey (695860)
      And considering that it only continued sending information until you restarted the browser.
  • Say it ain't so (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eihab (823648) * on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @10:05AM (#30916622)

    As far as I'm concerned toolbar == spy-ware. Google jumped the shark and joined the ranks of Yahoo, MSN and Happy-smiley-spy-ware-toolbar the day they created one and started shoving it down people's throat.

    No techie I know installs any toolbar in IE or Firefox. The only poor souls that seems to be stuck with them are non-techies, who usually have at least 3-4 toolbars and they "don't know how it happened".

    It's also amazing to watch them browse the web, they almost never use the address bar, it's either the Google or Yahoo toolbar's search box, and they seem to mix and match them in any given session. Basically whatever box is closest to the mouse pointer.

    I would be surprised if this was actually a "bug" and not a feature, sounds like a great bug to have for a data mining company. I also wonder if the assertion that it only affects "versions 6.3.911.1819 through 6.4.1311.42" is true. How can anyone confirm that since "the company intends to automatically update users' toolbars sometime today". Who has an older version to check?

    Google toolbar, analytics, ad sense, double click, chrome... My love for Google is diminishing faster than the DOW in 2008.

    • A "bug" for the user is a "feature" for Google...
    • Re:Say it ain't so (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @10:10AM (#30916696) Journal

      Google toolbar, analytics, ad sense, double click, chrome... My love for Google is diminishing faster than the DOW in 2008.

      Google has always been about datamining and advertising and you're always been losing your privacy to them. It's just now that people are starting to get it. And now Larry & Sergey are selling their shares [slashdot.org] and other more business oriented people will get more saying on the company. Even if Google wasn't being so intrusive before (and it kind of was), being a publicly traded company you never know what happens with your data in future.

      • by yuhong (1378501)

        And now Larry & Sergey are selling their shares [slashdot.org] and other more business oriented people will get more saying on the company.

        Not necessarily. It is not like Larry or Sergey is stepping down.

    • No techie I know installs any toolbar...

      Same here, but most of my family and friends probably would :-/

      I don't see any easy solutions, but maybe one good idea would be for browsers that exist for their users (i.e. free software [gnu.org] web-browsers) should consider adding the functionality in an optional way with the best privacy possible.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      The last guy whose computer I worked on must have had 5 or 6 toolbars in his browser, countless viruses, and he had been phished so many times that his browser had all but stopped working under the load (it loaded up about ten different phishing sites and at least a dozen porn pop-ups at every boot). This idiot basically clicked on any link or attachment he got, and had no doubt caused his credit card company no end of grief. I took one look at his system and told him he needed to take it to Best Buy and ha
      • by ajs (35943)

        The last guy whose computer I worked on must have had 5 or 6 toolbars in his browser, countless viruses, and he had been phished so many times that his browser had all but stopped working under the load (it loaded up about ten different phishing sites and at least a dozen porn pop-ups at every boot).

        Straw man arguments are fun. Let me try...

        The last person I saw eating ice cream had a freezer full of bright pink, chemical infused flavors. It was smeared all over his clothes, he weighed 400 pounds and couldn't leave his apartment. You don't want to be like that guy do you? Well, then don't eat ice cream.

        The anti-toolbar craze among the techie community started when Yahoo! put out theirs. It was a disaster. Its features were so intrusive that anyone with a clue immediately un-installed it if they'd been

    • What is wrong with Chrome? Whats wrong with analytics? I get the toolbar, ad sense, and double click, but Chrome and Analytics are nice.
      • Re:Say it ain't so (Score:5, Insightful)

        by eihab (823648) * on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @11:09AM (#30917504)

        What is wrong with Chrome?

        - Invasion of privacy, the queries that fly off to Google with every key stroke
        - Mandatory Google-updater that stays on your system for a day even after you uninstall everything

        Whats wrong with analytics?

        Two perspectives:

        User: Google stalking you around the web. No clear privacy policy for not combining search/google-account data with analytics.

        Site-owner/Advertiser: Missing help pages (404), stats do not add up. Very unpolished experience specifically when combined with ad sense: constantly getting "beta" features when it's a paid-for service is not good.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          - Invasion of privacy, the queries that fly off to Google with every key stroke
          - Mandatory Google-updater that stays on your system for a day even after you uninstall everything

          Both can be enabled and disabled pretty damn easily if you would just RTFM.
          You must be doing it very wrong if you can't remove the damn updater, i done it by accident!

          The only thing that can't be is the one that tracks user stats (been checked before, RLZ data) like browser info, OS, etc.
          But that can be blocked pretty easily with Privoxy or other such tools pretty damn easily too if you're idiotic enough to think that Google gives a damn about you.

          Idiots like this is why Chrome has such a bad reputation bec

          • by ajs (35943)

            And people had the cheek to insult Google! To hell with that double standards bullshit.

            You're new here, I assume.

            Google has been a standard punching bag on Slashdot for years. Geeks tend to distrust anything that becomes popular, and Google is very popular. That's really all you need to know about it.

        • by yuhong (1378501)

          Invasion of privacy, the queries that fly off to Google with every key stroke

          I personally find the suggestion feature very handy sometime.

        • by ajs (35943)

          What is wrong with Chrome?

          - Invasion of privacy, the queries that fly off to Google with every key stroke

          Some form of linkage to back this up would be nice. I really just don't buy it.

          - Mandatory Google-updater that stays on your system for a day even after you uninstall everything

          I've un-installed it. What did you do wrong?

    • Re:Say it ain't so (Score:4, Informative)

      by WraithCube (1391567) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @10:53AM (#30917254)

      While I do agree with most of what you said and 99.9% of toolbars are nothing but useless spyware, there are a few actual useful ones. Just because so many companies have built useless toolbars doesn't mean that there can't be a legitimately useful one amoung the clutter. The Web Developer [mozilla.org] toolbar is a favorite I usually have installed in firefox as it has a lot of useful tools/shortcuts. Then again I also usually even disable the bookmarks toolbar as the dropdown menu works quite well and i don't like giving up screen space.

      Also, a lot of those users with 4-6 toolbars usually manage to hide at least a few of them in the browser window without uninstalling them. Pulling up add-remove programs while removing something else and seeing a list of toolbars is alway an unwelcome surprise. Especially when they need to be convinced that they really don't need all 6 toolbars...

      • by eihab (823648) *

        I misspoke, I meant to say "any of these toolbars". I'm with you 99.999% are crap.

        I used to use Web Developer too but I mainly use Firebug nowadays (I've always disabled the toolbar, so I don't really think of it as one).

        The only things I still use Web Developer for are the W3C validation (Ctrl+Shift+A) and quickly disabling css (Ctrl+Shift+S) and maybe some cookies debugging every now and again.

    • by D Ninja (825055)

      Google toolbar, analytics, ad sense, double click, chrome... My love for Google is diminishing faster than the DOW in 2008.

      Hrm...what's wrong with Chrome, exactly? It's a sweet browser and has really helped to push other browsers forward as well.

      As for Analytics, Ad Sense, and Doubleclick - I'm not sure of your exact problems with them, but ads are how Google makes money so they can keep giving away all this "free" stuff. Sure, those ads may annoy you, but you can block them easily enough if they do.

      • by eihab (823648) *

        I've responded above [slashdot.org] to a similar question.

      • by KC7JHO (919247)
        No idea what is wrong with Chrome, I have NEVER seen it install on a windows machine with out editing the install package first! I am SO SICK of google advertising the stupid thing and then having it CRASH EVERY STINKING TIME I try to run it! Granted I haven't tried to install it on windows vista or 7 yet but out of 4 machines i have tried it on (3 XP Pro latest patches, 1 Windows 2k3 server latest patches) it installs then crashes EVERY time it is ran. I manages to hack enough of it to get it to occasional
        • by Z34107 (925136)

          Download SRWare Iron [srware.net] instead. It's the Chrome source, but with a proper installer. (And without weird server communication and the auto-update service.)

    • by Draek (916851)

      Browser toolbars are a lot like Office suites: they're stupid little pieces of software that no sane person in their right mind would ever want near their computer, but the masses want 'em for some bloody reason so if you want their money you must make one.

    • by Tim C (15259)

      No techie I know installs any toolbar in IE or Firefox.

      Does this [mozilla.org] not count as a toolbar? Because while admittedly I work in the web, almost all the developers I know use it.

      That is the only one though, and I'd certainly never install any other that didn't have a clear benefit - and alerting me to new emails isn't a benefit.

    • by PRMan (959735)

      I use the Google Toolbar (yes, on purpose). I like the word search buttons and the AutoFill button to fill out forms for me.

      The others are a complete waste and install surreptitiously, but the Google Toolbar does have some nice features.

    • picture of an average home users's browser:

      toolbar overload [jimcofer.com]

    • by yuhong (1378501)
      Yea, I once used these toolbars often, but I now have them hidden at least.
    • by ajs (35943)

      \As far as I'm concerned toolbar == spy-ware. Google jumped the shark and joined the ranks of Yahoo, MSN and Happy-smiley-spy-ware-toolbar the day they created one and started shoving it down people's throat.

      No techie I know installs any toolbar in IE or Firefox.

      Programmer, admin, etc. of 20+ years. I've used Google Toolbar for 2 years. It's a nice tool. I like the highlighting features and the page-rank display. Translate integration is nice. I could get everything that Google's toolbar gives me in a suite of other addons, but I don't need to. I never use the various funky buttons, but i do like the gmail mailto: integration.

      The only poor souls that seems to be stuck with them are non-techies, who usually have at least 3-4 toolbars and they "don't know how it happened".

      I explicitly download and install it. I don't know who these people you know are, but their browser fail is not my problem.

      It's also amazing to watch them browse the web, they almost never use the address bar, it's either the Google or Yahoo toolbar's search box

      I almost never use

  • by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @10:06AM (#30916636) Homepage

    Google Toolbar Tracks Your Browsing, Even When Off

    At first I thought that this meant that Google was tracking my movements even when my computer was off. I wondered how they'd do this and then I remembered about Google Street View.

    Sly bastards.

    • by aldld (1663705)
      You got a webcam? It might be time to cover it up.
    • by plover (150551) *

      Google Toolbar Tracks Your Browsing, Even When Off

      At first I thought that this meant that Google was tracking my movements even when my computer was off. I wondered how they'd do this and then I remembered about Google Street View.

      Sly bastards.

      When my wife showed her mother their house on Google's satellite view, she wanted to go outside to wave at the camera.

      Oh, they're good.

  • by H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @10:08AM (#30916656) Homepage Journal

    I've switched to using

    It's a meta search engine that focusses on privacy by not logging your IP address and your searches. On the technical side, it's nearly as good as the big name search engine I used previously.

    Here's a plugin for GNU IceCat / IceWeasel / Firefox: Ixquick [mozilla.org], or the https version [mozilla.org] (which I haven't tried, but I guess is the same to users).

    One hiccup: their ads system uses Google ads. Maybe they've implemented this in an anonymous way. I hope they have, but either way, at least with ixquick there a hope of privacy, unlike Google.

    • They seem to have a commendable attitude and seem to actually live up their cliams ..

      But note some of their servers are in the US so don't assume private means private ...

      More private than most I agree with, totally private, no

    • It's a meta search engine that focusses on privacy by not logging your IP address and your searches.

      I don't feel that the deliberate absence of something makes it a focus, even if it happens to be contrary to the norm. "Come to my website, it doesn't care who you are and just displays funny 404 screens based on buttons you click. We support your privacy."

      It's not as if logging IP addresses and searches is mandatory. It has to be coded in. There are aspects of that data that can improve how a search engine works. The rest is either user convenience or marketing data.

    • by symes (835608)
      I'd never heard of ixquick before but initial impressions are very positive. So thankyou. I've set it as my default search engine for additional scrutiny. Also interested to note that they are launching [youtube.com] a proxy service. A breath of fresh air.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Scroogle [scroogle.org] is another search that doesn't log, but uses Google to do the searches.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eihab (823648) *

      One hiccup: their ads system uses Google ads. Maybe they've implemented this in an anonymous way. I hope they have, but either way, at least with ixquick there a hope of privacy, unlike Google.

      It looks like they did. The ads are not loaded with Javascript or anything from Google. They are basically links served from ixquick's server as:
      http://www.google.com/aclk?sa=l&ai=[Publisher/Advertiser Identifier]&adurl=[URL of the ad].

      Since ixquick uses POST [wikipedia.org] instead of GET [diffen.com], Google can't see your keywords in the referrer header [wikipedia.org], all they'll see is that you came from (http://us2.ixquick.com/do/metasearch.pl).

      My only issue with these meta-search engines is that they rely on all of the other search eng

  • They'll do no evil, right? Google's our friend, right? right? guys...?
    • by TheLink (130905)
      Do no double plus ungood you mean.

      Trust Google, Google is your friend.

      Do you still doubt Google? Perhaps you should visit the Bright Vision Re-Education Center to get things straightened out.
    • by Ja'Achan (827610)
      Of course we're at war with Google. We've always been at war with Google.
  • Even if the company "does no evil"(tm), no system is perfect. I remember fiddling with Facebook's API a while back. I was astounded by by what I had access to. I could see friend ids/names that I am not so sure should have been accessible to me given the privacy options selected by those people.

    So, even if a company's morality is perfect, this isn't to say that their software is. Don't expect anyone to protect your privacy except you.

  • I don't use any installable tool-bars. Like they say, nothing is truly free. I'm sure the sending of data when off was intentional. They just got busted.

    I don't like mega-corporations that have way to much control. This is why I wish someone new would step up in the search world. The two best search engines are Google and Bing, both owned by mega-corps. Maybe an open source search engine powered by an open source charity. (donates to open source projects)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      The two best search engines are Google and Bing, both owned by mega-corps.

      Do you think it's possible for a non-megacorp to build the infrastructure required to index a sizable portion of the web and serve search results in real time to a large audience?

      • by xtracto (837672)

        The two best search engines are Google and Bing, both owned by mega-corps.

        Do you think it's possible for a non-megacorp to build the infrastructure required to index a sizable portion of the web and serve search results in real time to a large audience?

        Kind of, I think that would be a feasible task for a University or research institution.

        From my point of view, the problem is not that a "Megacorp" is providing the service; the main issue is the way they are making money out of it (e.g. they profit from farming your browsing habits).

        • Re:No toolbar here (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @11:07AM (#30917476) Journal

          the main issue is the way they are making money out of it (e.g. they profit from farming your browsing habits).

          If it bothers you that much then install CustomizeGoogle [customizegoogle.com] and block their click tracking and cookies. That's a free solution that will prevent them from building up much of a profile on you. If you want to spend a little bit of money you can use an Anonymous web proxy to go a step further and keep them from associating your IP address to your search queries.

          Point being, there are ways around Google's invasive data mining for those who are willing to invest a small amount of effort.

      • by C_Kode (102755)

        As noted by another poster. Google did it, and I'm willing to bet someone like Redhat in combination with hardware donation from IBM could manage to put together that type of infrastructure. I mean, you don't have to have 1 million servers like Google to start off with. You build as required. If you get that large, you will have plenty of search revenue to build out with.

  • This is why I don't install toolbars. And you know who else likes to install toolbars? Yeah, Zynga. You trust them with your info?
  • No one is surprised when Microsoft does this but it'a amazing that people are when Google does. As a publicly traded company Google's only obligation is to make a profit for shareholders. That means doing things like instituting business practices that are favorable to their business. Can you imagine a better situation? 80% of the search market and people love you. Once GOOG became publicly traded "Do no evil" is more of a guideline than a rule. Maybe they should change their motto to "We do less evil than
    • No one is surprised when Microsoft does this but it'a amazing that people are when Google does.

      Microsoft has a history of being immoral, baring China it's pretty rare for Google to do such things.

      As a publicly traded company Google's only obligation is to make a profit for shareholders. That means doing things like instituting business practices that are favorable to their business.

      Agreed with what you're saying, but not with what you're implying. Pissing off and consequently losing customers by spying on them isn't favorable to their business. Risking a comparatively large fiasco over a comparatively small amount of data mining isn't worth pot odds. Google doesn't have Microsoft's lock-in - it's easy to move away from Google. I find it hard to believe Google doesn't know this.

      80% of the search market and people love you.

      I re

  • Googlebar Lite (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you have Firefox, use Googlebar Lite [mozilla.org] instead. It has all the same goodies without the corporasity.

  • The Alexa Toolbar (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This new shouldn't be a surprise for anyone who has ever used a browser toolbar before.

    • You know what's funny? Alexa did the exact same thing Google Analytics does now, just in a different way. If GA required a special client-side app it would be considered malware.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @10:36AM (#30917026)

    . . . that should remove any responsibility of indemnity of the Foolbar vendor.

    Corporate Defense Lawyer: "Your Honor, the plaintiff, Mr. Terry Fuckwit, who is suing for privacy violations, did knowingly install and use our product, appropriately named 'Foolbar'."

    Judge: "Anyone who uses such a product is a dumb-ass and has shit for brains. Case dismissed."

    Judge: "Now on to the next case, concerning another of your products, 'KieferSutherlandsCattlePonziScheme' for Windows 7 . . ."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    $542.42. That was GOOG's closing price yesterday. Just what do they have to support that price? Nothing. Nothing except your data, and they're going to sell it Buster, as much as they can, before investors begin to notice the markup on that $135.00 stock of theirs. Oh sure, The Market says it's worth $500+ and it's never wrong, right? Just like what The Market said about your house. Of course, your house didn't have hip coolness did it. Google Goggles! Google Goggles! Google Goggles! It's even fun to say!

  • Disables the constant Chinese connections too! ;-p
  • Perhaps. But having complete tracking data for a wide swath of internet users is extremely valuable. I'd be more impressed if they were promising to purge that data from their servers. As it is it looks like they figured they'd do this until they got caught and then say "oopsie".
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Tor Browser Bundle [torproject.org]

Time to take stock. Go home with some office supplies.

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